The US Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service filed petitions in several federal courts seeking records from MasterCard accounts at the Leadenhall Bank & Trust Company in the Bahamas on 13 March. The actions were taken against 10 individuals who refused to produce records sought by earlier court summonses.
The IRS has already obtained thousands of Visa, MasterCard and American Express records involving accounts at dozens of banks in offshore financial centres. But the latest move was the first time since the initiative began in October 2000 that individual Americans have been targeted.
Although it is not illegal to possess a credit or debit card issued by an offshore bank, it is a violation of US tax laws to hide income from the IRS in such accounts and then use the payment card to access them in the US.
The petitions were filed in federal courts in California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Maryland and Tennessee. They seek court orders against the individuals that would require them to turn over records that the IRS claims would show they are hiding income.
The court actions came shortly before the expiry, on 15 April, of a deadline for offshore credit and debit cardholders to volunteer information and pay taxes without fear of civil penalties or criminal liability. The IRS said the initiative had produced several million dollars in revenue.
Cyprus reunification talks revived for EU accession
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan abandoned talks at The Hague aimed at reunifying Cyprus in time for EU accession after Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders failed to agree on a plan to hold simultaneous referenda in time for the signing of the accession treaties by the EU’s 10 new members on 16 April.
The EU said that if the island fails to reach an agreement on reunification by 1 May 2004, the date for accession, then EU legislation would be applied only to the Greek Cypriot side.
But following the collapse of the UN talks on 11 March, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has written to his Greek Cypriot counterpart Tassos Papadopoulos with concessions aimed at initiating fresh talks. A meeting to discuss the Cyprus issue by representatives of Greece and Turkey was due to be held on 8 April in Belgrade in the margins of a Balkans summit.
IRS pursues offshore cardholders in federal courts